Mature story contains dark themes involving graphic violence and taboo topics that may contain triggers for sensitive readers. Please do not read further if this bothers you.
The Kandric Saga - 16. Chapter 16
Kandric finished explaining his vision for the boys in the dungeon and suggested the same thing could hold true for the much smaller population of girls held in the opposite side of the lower level of the building. He crossed his hands and leaned back on the chair as he glanced across the table where Rylop, Londow, and Sergeant Tardot exchanged hushed whispers. There was no question the three men found his idea both interesting and potentially profitable. The only real question was would they be willing to give up such a large piece of the pie.
Rylop sighed then turned back to Kandric, “Young’an, yer idea is pretty wild. It’ll be sure to cause some problems down there.”
“Yes.” Kandric agreed with no hesitation, “Some of the kids will rebel, but if the closed off area is as you describe it, then there will be a place to put trouble makers. I have full confidence in Eyan to maintain control and there are a couple of others who will help. One of the younger kids knows how to read and write so he can keep the books. Besides if you hold back half of all the money the kids make, then they get out with money to spend and might be able to stay out of jail or at least stand a fair chance of survival when they get out. All in all, you stand to make more money than you are now and the kids down there will learn there is a price attached to trying to eat at the Governor’s expense.”
Londow chuckled, “Ya fail ta mention you’ll be takin’ in a fair bit of copper off this deal too!”
Kandric nodded but felt he better explain the planned breakdown one more time so there was no confusion. “I get one copper out of every eight, Eyan and his staff equally split two, the kids who do the work get two, the whole group in the jail get one to buy firewood new blankets, soap and maybe even a few toys, and you all get two. You take seven out of every 8 now, but you only get one or two kids even willing to go out. With my plan, the kids will have to go out three times a week or they forfeit one of their two copper to you. If they don’t go out at all during a week, then we use the other wing and from the way it sounds, it is not a place I would want to be housed in.”
Tardot rubbed his bearded chin for a few moments, “What if your people running it split one copper out of ever eight and we got three?”
Kandric shook his head, “I do not think such a deal would be fair Sergeant. Eyan will need a lieutenant and there will be two cell leaders in charge of each of the three non leader cells, and we need the bookkeeper. Nine people splitting a single copper does not seem very fair.”
Rylop mumbled something then stood, “I don’t like the idea of pushin’ the kids to do somethin’ they don’t want to do none, but I also see the advantages to this whole idea. I never have liked the way the jail fills up during the winter by kids who are just too lazy or too desperate to make it on their own. Why not a bit of a middle ground on this Kandric?”
“What do you have in mind?” Kandric leaned forward much more interested. Finally someone wanted to haggle. Haggling was almost as fun as playing a game, only with higher stakes. The winner would come out with more money than the loser!
Rylop paused to collect his thoughts, “You could cut the number of leaders getting money out of the pot by a great deal if you made each of the three cell leaders and their thugs go out two time a week. We’d not rent ’em out for less than eight copper so they’d be guaranteed two copper each time, four copper a week. Some of the merchants would pay more for a tougher kid for a night. Then there would only be need to split the money 3 ways and one copper out of 8 would be OK and we’d get three.”
“I could go for the basics of the plan. However, I think the other leaders should only have to go out once a week and I want a copper and a half and you get two and a half copper per every eight earned. I also think you should finish their training so the leaders get to come out of cells Primary Echelon.” Kandric grinned. Glaster taught him just how much fun merchant negotiations could be almost from the very first trip he had taken with the man. One lesson he had learned well was: for every offer there had to be a counter offer. Making money was more than a skill it was an art.
Londow snorted with a grin of amusement, “You don’t know when ta quite do ya?”
“I was taught to never quit by the best teacher in the world!” Kandric stated proudly.
“And how to fight well enough to be a Black Rapids Wilderness Scout.” Rylop reminded the other two adults. “We get three, the group fund for the kids gets one half of one and you get a copper and a half out of every eight. Of the last three the kid doing the work gets two and your three leaders get one split between them.” Rylop paused to look and Londow and Tardot. Both men nodded after a second or two.
“And the cell Leaders only have to go out once a week and you finish their training, right?” Kandric asked to confirm.
“Deal.” Tardot announced, “But you’ll have ta set everythin’ up and get the old torture chamber and the small cells cleaned out. We will not take the blame for this if the Governor starts poking around. It will have to be on you and you alone.”
“Fine with me.” Kandric beamed a beautiful smile. “By the time I am done embarrassing him, he will happily let me run with it just to keep me quiet.”
“Boy,” Tardot warned, “don’t go messin’ with no Teachin’ Echelon bein’ it’s bad for the health.”
“Funny,” Kandric smirked, “someone should have warned Velert about trifling with someone in the Teaching Echelon somewhere in his training.”
Tardot’s eyebrows shot toward the ceiling, “Are ya tryin’ ta tell me you be Teachin’?”
Kandric’s eyes glinted as he rolled his fingers, “I just might!” He whispered a short phrase and pointed at the torch on the far wall. A dart of flame shot out and ignited it. He then spoke another arcane phrase and pointed at the now lit torch. It lifted up into the air and started moving around the room where ever Kandric’s fingers pointed. Finally he moved it back to the torch holder. “I also just might be a spell caster.”
Tardot and Londow gasped at the display. Tardot was the first to be able to speak, “You be Shaman!”
Rylop nodded, “Yea, and he healed a broken bone; I saw it. He be Teaching all right.”
Tardot winced, “This arrest will not look so good on the Swordsman Guild.”
Kandric laughed, “My arrest will not help Velert look good either both in abstract and in person. If Vondum has not found Velert yet, it will not be long until he does.”
Vondum watched the small Halfling boy dart into Hunter’s Inn. The lad looked scared out of his wits, but he moved forward and pointed at a man with a bandaged hand, “This be the one who hit your friend!” The Halfling announced loudly, but with a shaky voice.
Velert glared at the boy and grabbed him, “There you be you little whelp! Who do you think you are pointing at me, a guilded Swordsman, in such an accusing manner?”
Vondum stepped into the inn. “He is doing so at my request!”
Two off duty guards sitting at the far table turned to each other. In one voice they spoke in semi- awe, “Vondum!”
One of the bouncers for the inn’s bar stepped forward. The Illorc blocked Vondum’s path, “I don’t cares who he is none! We ain’t gunna have no problem here!”
The older guard winced, “Don’t!” He screamed, “He’s Exper…”
The warning came too late. The big Illorc was already in Vondum’s face. “I ain’t gunna have to hurt ya, is me?”
“You’re not!” Vondum stated way too calmly, “You aren’t gunna get a chance. You and your buddies however…” Vondum didn’t finish off the statement instead he lashed out with his fist and caught the Illorc square in the gut. He then grabbed the doubled up bouncer’s shirt collar and yanked. The Illorc’s face slammed into the doorframe cracking the doorframe and the Illorc’s jaw.
Velert jumped to his feet as a few of his drinking buddies rushed the man who had just taken out a guilded Swordsman without so much as a second thought. He looked down at the Halfling he was holding with a glare. “You useless little whelp! How dare you bring trouble my direction?” With those words he backhanded the tiny Halfling child. He was about to repeat the maneuver when he heard a loud crash.
Velert glanced past the Halfling child and stood to see what was going on. What he saw made him turn pale. The second Illorc bouncer had been slammed through a table and the two men who had stood up to “greet” the big man were currently getting their heads slammed together.
Velert’s hopes rose for a second when he saw another bar patron slip behind the huge man with a raised beer mug. The blow never landed however. The big man’s foot came up and caught the would-be attacker square in the groin. The man doubled over as the big man slammed the heads of the first two together again and again. Once he seemed satisfied he let the two men slump to the floor and picked up a barstool.
Vondum glared at the man who had tried to sneak up on him, “Next time find a real weapon if you want to take me on!” He then used both hands to smash the barstool over the man’s back. Wood shattered as the man’s face impacted with the floor with enough force to make the nearby chairs bounce a little.
Velert’s concern turned to fear as he saw two more men rush the newcomer only to get wrapped up in twin headlocks and the tops of their heads get driven into and through the front of the wooden bar. More than a couple of the others paused for a moment as they saw the two men twitch for a few seconds before going still, their bodies being held half way up because their heads were stuck in the side of good quality planking.
Vondum was just beginning, however. He picked up a pair of solid wooden mugs and brought them together one on each side of a woman’s head who had pulled a dagger. Both mugs splintered with the impact. The woman’s eyes rolled up and she slowly sagged to the ground.
Vondum grabbed the dagger out of her hands before she fell and flipped it over in his hands. He shook his head at another woman charging him with a flail. When she didn’t heed the warning he whipped the dagger at her. The hilt of the small weapon caught her right between the eyes. She stumbled to the side, tripped over a stool and went headlong into a table with two Swordsmen who up to now had been simply enjoying the show. With their beer spilled their mood turned a little sour and they started throwing fists at whomever was around.
One very upset patron managed to push Vondum up against the wall next to the dartboard.
Vondum grinned as if truly enjoying himself, “So you want to play darts?” He grabbed all 8 darts with one hand while spinning the Elf around with the other. As soon as he was face to face with the Elf he slammed all 8 darts into the Elf’s chest. With his hand’s totally free, Vondum proceeded to twist the shocked Elf’s arms behind his back and drove the attacker’s chest, with the darts still stuck deeply into the flesh, into the wall with everything he had. Vondum grinned as he felt ribs crack and darts push all the way in.
Vondum spun and flattened the bartender with a single backhand sending the Dwarf spinning into two more tables, toppling both. He had to duck under a drunken sword swing of yet another person. Grunting with a little extra effort he grabbed the guy by his shirt and britches and tossed him over the top of the bar. Another man who decided to charge Vondum found himself flying through the air as well. He also ended up on the other side of the bar but, unfortunately for him, he knocked over a cask of ale which ended up falling on him.
Vondum looked up to see Velert disappearing through a back door. A new round of anger spilled into him as step by step he made his way across the room to the door. People, tables, and anything else which got in the way was pounded down, broken, smashed or otherwise reduced to mere rubble on the floor. By the time he got to the back door there was no sign of the Healthman. Vondum slammed his fist through the building’s wooden wall and yelled into the night, “You can’t run far enough or fast enough!”
He spun back around as he felt a blow land on his back. He turned to face one of three men left standing in the room, “Stupid, very stupid!” He shouted as he drove his heel into the man’s foot. Floorboards under the man’s crushed foot snapped.
The man’s screams stopped the advance of the last two men. Both of them held up their hands and fled out the front door of Hunter’s Inn.
Vondum grunted in satisfaction as his fist came in contact with the man squealing about his foot being driven into the floorboards, “Next time look to make sure your opponent doesn’t have someone put Dwarven Blue Steel over his heels. He picked up his left foot to show the metal edges. ”And shut up already!" He again drove his fist into the man’s face knocking him out.
Vondum’s eyes surveyed the destruction of what was up to 15 minutes ago a very nice tavern and inn as he let go of his last victim. His eyes fell on a small Halfling child laid out on the floor whimpering. Vondum moved down to his side. “You did well boy.”
The youngster turned allowing Vondum to see a bloody and crooked nose and a massive bruise on the side of his face.
Vondum felt a new wave of anger; “Velert is going to wish I had killed him by the time I am finished!” He softened his voice some, “Don’t worry. You’re pain will be gone as soon as I get you to Kandric. Velert will now have to pay for hitting you and arresting Kandric. I know what he looks like now, and he has been moved to the very top of my personal grudge list!”
Vondum yanked the boy up with one hand by the back of the boy’s britches and carried him out of the bar leaving the two off duty guards sitting in their dark corner finishing off their beers. Neither man had moved a centimeter once the fighting had started.
The older one turned to his companion; “We tried to warn ’em.”
“Yup. Looks likes we best start gettin’ things cleaned up like, huh?”
“Not a chance, It’s me only night off this week. I’ll go grab me another beer and sit back and watch all these idiots wake up.”
“A few of them will wish they were still out when the pain hit em!”
“No joke. Got to wonder about those two stuck in the side of the bar and the elf with the darts sticking out of his chest. I don’t know if’n they’ll be wakin’ up at all.”
The younger man chuckled, “Bet you a copper they all do. Vondum is too good to actually kill someone in a bar fight.” He drained his mug “Ya know, if ya want another beer, you’ll have to get it yerself cause there ain’t no one else capable of gettin’ it fer ya.”
The older guard stood, “Which is fine with me, cause there also ain’t no one to charge me fer gettin’ it!”
The younger one grinned, “Good point. Better pour myself a couple before someone comes around!”
Conner looked out over the river, picked up another stone and skipped it across the surface of the water right where he could see the reflection of the moon. Off in the distance he could see the crews working hard at getting the Thunder Rapids loaded.
He picked up another large stone and tossed in into the water, not even trying to make it skip, enjoying the way the water rippled for a moment before being swept downstream. So much like me, he though as he reached for yet another stone. All I ever am is a kid getting pushed along from one place to another only to end up doing something else wrong and getting pushed away yet again.
Now I have a family again, but will never be able to be a part of it. I will always be on the run, branded evil because I am a trained Wraith Sect Warrior. Why do I always end up the one alone?
Conner glanced back to the tent were Aster and Pocet were enjoying each other’s company. He sighed and shuddered at the same time. He felt a combination of jealousy at the close friendship and disgust at the idea of wanting to sleep with an adult. How many times had Conner allowed men and a few women to have their way with his body so he could go out the next day with a few copper in his pocket? It was not exactly looked down on. Almost all the kids in the orphanage had done it, even Aster.
Aster had always been the good kid with all the luck though. He spent one night with the Metal Worker and got a chance to work in the shop. He won Master Lannet’s heart and got trained in areas which would benefit him the rest of his life and earn him a respectable living. Everyone liked Aster; there was not one member of the Watch who wouldn’t throw himself in front of an arrow for Aster.
Conner looked down at his hands, “Then there is me.” he muttered aloud before going back to silent thought. What am I, who am I. I try for over a year to get trained, only to get an offer to become a Dark Mage. I refuse, get attacked, counter the magic and end up getting kicked out of my house by my own mother. All because I didn’t want to put her and my stepfather in jeopardy.
Conner shook his head as he thought back over the decisions which lead him to be what he was. Then I get approached by another kid, who tells me I could get trained and I could fight the people who ruined my life and killed my stepfather. Who wouldn’t agree to such an offer? Only there was a catch. All I thought about was revenge, all I wanted was revenge, and I didn’t listen to the warning about what becoming a Wraith Sect Warrior would mean. I didn’t care.
Twelve long years I trained, working with only one goal in mind, to destroy the kid who caused me to get exiled from my home, made into a non-child. Each day I started to see more and more of what I was becoming, an assassin. I pushed myself further learning the arts of the Lockmaster, knowing the skills would one-day help me extract revenge.
Another stone left Conner’s hand and fell with a splash into the river, “Revenge, some revenge.” Conner snorted to himself in disgust. He let his mind drift back to the day he had been forced to take the blame for the daggers to protect his secondary family, His Sect Warrior mates.
The day slave overseer had caught one of the students from the farm. The same man who twelve years earlier, as a boy, had tried to kill him for refusing to learn the Black Mage arts. The Overseer had grinned at Conner, “Your entire Sect is about to be discovered boy, I will force it out of this one and you will all be hunted down like wild dogs.”
Conner had shaken his head, “and you will become known as a Dark Mage.”
“Even if you convince others, it will be too late for you and the rest of your pathetic group of do-gooders. I may or may not die, you, however, will! I give you a chance to save your teacher and his school.”
“I am not yours to command!” Conner shouted back.
“No, but it is a simple task. All you have to do is sleep in your friend’s forge tonight. Nothing more, nothing less. If you agree I will release this thieving little runt to you right now.”
Conner knew there was something more going on, and knew the man wanted to pay him back for burning a good portion of his face, but the price was small, very small. Or so he thought until he woke up the next morning and found two finely crafted daggers missing from the shop and the door wide open. A note on the wall said everything, "Leave now or the apprentices become demon larva. You will not say anything about what has happened and we will leave this shop be from henceforth. The note was signed by Gambra herself and burst into flame as soon as he had read it.
He knew he could not overpower magic on the scale of Gambra’s so he did as instructed, only to be picked up later by city guards. They found him hiding under garbage in a back alley crying. Oh how the day slave overseer’s eyes twinkled upon seeing Conner dragged into his section of the dungeons.
It truly shocked him when Aster had pulled strings with the Watch to make his stay in the dungeon somewhat comfortable. Aster hadn’t believed in his guilt for an instant and refused to abandon his friend. Conner kicked another stone in the river wondering if he would have stood so steadfast next to Aster if the situation had been reversed. Deep in his heart he knew he would have abandoned Aster. The fact Aster had not turned his back made this realization even more painful.
Conner sat down as he continued to watch the river flow in the moonlight. As peaceful as the scene was it did not ease his troubled mind. He toyed with the idea of jumping in. He could swim, but was in no way great at it. He seriously doubted he would be able to fight the water’s strong current and the cold would soon overtake him. It would surely save Aster and the others a great deal of trouble over the long run. They would not have to lie about or defend him for being Wraith. They would be able to go their own way and not feel responsible for a failed family member. The more he thought about jumping in the more the idea appealed to him.
A voice behind him interrupted his thoughts, “Young spell thrower, why are you here alone when the feast is just about to start on Thunder Rapids?”
Conner spun to face the speaker taking up a perfect Sect Warrior fighting crouch as he did so. Being surprised was not something Conner was used to, but at least he could recover quickly.
Captain Pontarious held up his hands to show he was not a threat, “Quick reflexes there little one! I am impressed.”
Conner jumped up out of his stance and shook his head, “Not quick enough. If you hadn’t said something you could have easily stuck a knife in my back.” Conner paused, “Which would not have been all bad either.”
“How can you say such a thing?” Pontarious asked in a firm yet fatherly voice. “You are the one who rescued my son’s best, and really only, friend. Without your insights in letting your half brother rescue Quavis, peace would be a fragile thing at best between us. You have done a great deal over the past few days. The least you can do is come and enjoy the celebration before we head down to do the bidding of the gods.”
Conner glared at the man; “You don’t get it, do ya?”
“Get what, young one?”
“I am part of the reason for all of this trouble. The people who attacked the caravan were Gambra’s! Do you know who she is?”
Pontarious frowned, “I have heard the name whispered in some of the seeder places where I have done business. Rumors say she is a Dark Mage, evil as evil can be and cares about one thing, and only one thing, power. I don’t understand what this has to do with you, the caravan, your half brother, or Quavis however.”
Conner gritted his teeth as he thought about just diving into the river to end it all. Instead he looked straight into the Barge captain’s eyes; “You really want to hear this?”
Captain Pontarious thought it over for a second then glanced around, found a fallen tree and sat on it, “Sure! I’d love to hear everything you have to say young one!” He patted the log, "have a seat and let me hear how all this ties into one nice knot!’
Conner sighed and let his shoulders slump, “Ok, but don’t blame me if you get bored.”
“Nope. It takes a lot to bore this old man.” Pontarious winked, “How many people do you know can stand in front of a bunch of strange mixtures for days on end trying to make a potion work just right?”
Conner shuddered and grinned, “Not many, but I am glad you have done so. Your fire wall saved my butt!”
Pontarious waved his hand dismissively, “Took me only a few weeks to make it. Then I decided if I could mix up a firewall I sure ought to be able to mix up a fire rain. Now, talk about time, I started experimenting on it back when I was twenty-three years young, finally got it to work when I was thirty-four, but it turns out I messed up and got it right. Took me another seven years to figure out what I had overlooked. Turns out it only works if the liquid sits in the sun for over four hours and the final mix must be done at the time of the nearest high tide. Now how fire rain and high tide are connected, I’ll never understand, but at least I know how to make it now!”
Conner couldn’t help but giggle at the man’s expression; “You have to make sure of all those things just to make a potion work?”
“Yup.” Pontarious grinned, “You think figuring out fire rain sounds bad, you should have seen me trying to work on something to eliminate the smell of my boy’s pet skunk.” The man’s face took on the look of someone who had just eaten something very nasty. “One time I accidentally made something which made the smell worse!”
Conner, totally forgetting about his problems started laughing, “Yuck! I’d get sick!”
“Been there!” Pontarious replied with a sideways looking grin, “Got so bad the skunk even ran out of my tent! My poor boy had to go chase him down.”
Conner had to wipe tears away from his eyes he was laughing so hard. Finally he calmed down and looked deeply into Pontarious’ eyes. What he saw was a look he had long ago forgotten; it was the look of caring and concern. Sure his Wraith Master was caring and was concerned, but the man also was a teacher, he never allowed feelings to get involved with making sure every strike was delivered with perfection. Magic classes were every bit as brutal as the Sect Warrior classes, and the Lockmaster classes were probably the worst of all because the punishments were more sever for messing up. The master focused of stealth, pick pocketing, hiding, and picking locks for these were the things which would help defeat Gambra when the time came. Unfortunately these were also the skills, when used, would place a person in a dungeon so those skills were drilled in with the most serious consequences in mind.
Pontarious continued to watch the boy next to him. He had dealt with street kids in many ports of call who survived by wits alone. Many of them held themselves with the same standoffishness as this youngster, only this boy was far more intense. Part of it, for sure, had to do with the fact Conner had seen battle where he had seen friends die and had enemies fall by his own hand. Killing regardless of the need always took a piece of a person and reshaped it. Some it made better others worse, but no one could take a life and remain unchanged. Yet there was something far more intense going on deep inside this highly skilled youngster. In some ways it scared Pontarious. In others ways it made the man feel deeply sorry for the boy who clearly hadn’t had a proper childhood. The last thing he wanted to do was further alienate the boy but something had to be said while the youngster was still relaxed, “So what can you tell me about this Gambra? Can you separate any of the fact from the fiction for me?”
Conner took one last look into the man’s eyes and liked what he saw yet again, “Yea, I guess. The only problem is, I didn’t hear any fiction when you were talking about her.”
“Oh, come now, are you saying this woman not only exists, but is also as evil as everyone says?”
Conner stared up at the stars and nodded, “She is not as evil as everyone says; she is worse. Gambra is the Queen of Dark Mages. Some dispute this, but no other Dark Mage is as high a rank.”
“How powerful is she?”
"She is Master Echelon in the guilds as a regular Mage, so my guess is she is actually Legendary Echelon in her true arts. She can turn a non-trained person into a demon larva without so much as a flip of her wrist and a trained person with little more effort than me casting a Elemental burst. Her followers must turn their oldest child into a demon larva to graduate into the elite ranks of the Dark Mages. The Demon larva then grows into a full minor demon very quickly as long as the Dark Mage continues to use the Dark Magic to feed it, it lives. Once this happens the Dark Mage gets a vote on the council of Dark Mages and his minion receives help to get to be a more power form within the lower plains.
“Most of these minor demons don’t survive long down there. They are destroyed in their quest for power or break free from their creator to become a more powerful demon. The Dark Mage must occasionally fight to keep control of their minion in order to keep the full potential of power from the lower plains open to them. Gambra, as best as anyone can tell, is the only one to currently still control her minion beyond it being a minor demon. Hers has become a full-fledged Rock Demon and yet she still holds absolute power over it. I might also add it was her first born and to this point only son to be born. For some reason we cannot understand, it is still devoted to her even though she turned it into a demon.”
Pontarious shook his head as if to clear it, “My I ask a few questions?”
“Ask away.” Conner stated with no real feeling.
Pontarious scratched his chin for a few moments, “You have a great deal of information on not only Gambra, but also Dark Magic. Yet you don’t sound like you approve of Dark Magic. So how in the world did you get this information?”
“My teacher, my Master, has a massive library devoted to Dark Magic. He was a Dark Mage and made a break with its evil ways once they demanded his son. He refused and started studying how he could circumvent the giving of his son’s life. The Dark Mages found out about this and launched a surprise attack on him. He fought a pitched magical battle in which he convinced a few of the lesser demons to betray their masters and cut off the flow of extra energy coming from the lower plains. The battle killed his teacher and two other Dark Mage council members, but also killed his son.”
Pontarious felt his eyes go wide, “The Dark Mage purges of my childhood! There were hundreds of Dark Mages who suddenly were exposed. The more they fought back the more of them it exposed. This was all due to the fact a few minor demons broke free of bondage and pointed out who had made them what they were! Some of them even managed to get taken in by the gods as minions which created a minor war between the gods and the demon lords. It is rumored the Isle of Cyclops was laid waste in the war.”
"I was not born yet, but yea, the Dark Mage council was basically routed and what remained were forced to scatter. Some of the Dark Mages realized they could make a clean break with the Black Arts and did so creating wars between former Dark Mages and those who still were. There are very few factions left on either side, but there are two very powerful ones remaining. One is my teacher, the one who first broke the Dark Magic circle; the other is Gambra, queen of all Dark Mages.
“Cyclops Isle is a wasteland. It was the homeland of my master. I have been there three times because I have volunteered to go. The best way to learn how to fight, according to my master, is to take on a stronger opponent. He takes his students who wish to fight there because there are so many demons running the lands it is easy to find a fight. About a third of his students die in that forsaken land.”
Pontarious felt like he was a student and the boy before him was the instructor, “How did you end up getting wrapped up in all of this?”
"I was a young elf who became adept with Autospells long before most kids my age even learn they have the talent to cast one. Of course this only happened when I was upset or stuff, when I did get a burst of emotion I learned I could cast different types of spells. My mother and step-father pressed me hard to learn how control this so I didn’t set things on fire or add too much salt to the evening meal just because I didn’t like what was being cooked. I did learn full control, well at lest enough control to cast spells which wouldn’t do damage like changing the color of the nasty stew my mom used to cook once a week to a bright purple, my favorite color. They didn’t always like the results of the spells, but at least nothing was really being damaged by them. The problem was we were poor. I couldn’t find a teacher. I would go out to the Mage Guild and stand there for hours begging to get proper training only to be ignored.
"One day I had just turned away from the guild office after being told by the Mage at the desk to get lost or be turned into a frog. I was very young and didn’t know much about magic at the time so this scared me a great deal and I ran away crying.
"I turned the corner and was pushed to the ground by a human boy a few years older in equivalency than me was. He looked down at me and laughed. He made fun of my tears and cast a few auto spells to prove he too knew something about magic. He started telling me how I could get trained like him. He talked about how I could even learn to feed my magic off the life forces of small creatures. Suddenly he pointed at a cute little puppy and a bolt of light jumped out of his hand. The puppy fell to the ground shaking and whining like it was in horrible pain before it finally collapsed and stopped breathing.
"The boy then drew back the magic out of the dead puppy and it glowed brighter. He smiled as he saw me scramble over to the dead animal. I can still remember his exact words, ‘You can’t do nothing for it, it is dead! But if you don’t come with me now it will not be the last thing to die in this alley!’
“I got up and pushed him. He chuckled meanly and said ‘life lover! I should have known better than to try to recruit an Elf!’ He then pointed his fingers at me and started to release the power of his own spell coupled with the life force of the dead puppy.”
Conner shrugged as he continued his retelling of the events which led him to be taken in by his Teacher. “I don’t know why I did it, but something told me I had to do something. I cast a smoke puff at him the exact time he released his Dark Magic fire spell. The flame hit the smoke puff and deflected back on the boy. He fell screaming, clothing on fire. Everyone assumed it had been me casting a spark Autospell which had ignited his clothing. I was blamed for everything.”
The city officials in Junsac shrugged the whole thing off as a kid accidentally hurting another with an unexpected outburst of magic. I was, like I said, very young and the people at the Mage Guild told everyone including the Baron of Junsac of my attempts to get trained. The Baron actually scolded the Mage Guild lightly saying there was a burned boy because they didn’t take a few weeks to at least train me how to control my magic.
“The Mage guild relented and took me in for one month where they taught me not only how to control my magic but how to summon up my magic energies when I was not angry or scared. During this time I got a visit from Gambra. She had a young boy with her. She told me I was to never say anything about what had happened or she would kill my whole family. She then gestured to the boy and spoke two words. The boy collapsed to the floor screaming in pain. Seconds later his bones began to snap on their own. One by one the smallest bones in the hands and feet first then moved to his arms and legs until he passed out and then died. She made me one last offer to train me. I refused. There was no way I could ever hurt someone in the way I saw her kill the boy she had brought with her. She shrugged and left putting the shattered body of the boy in a bag she had brought with her. As she left she told me her burned student would get his revenge.”
Pontarious raised an eyebrow, “Did he?”
“Somewhat.” Conner looked out over the moon lit water, “The boy who first tried to recruit me grew up and had three kids the oldest is the best friend of your son.”
Pontarious shook his head; “He can’t be a Dark Mage!”
“Oh, no, he’s not. He is supposed to be sacrificed and turned into a demon larva for his father to advance in the circle of Dark Mage power. His father is then to feed him deaths until he can become one of the minor demons I was telling you about.”
“Over my dead body!”
“His father would be only too happy to make such an arrangement. Quavis has figured all of this out. Just ask him.”
Pontarious waved his hand. “I didn’t have the full story, but I have heard enough out of him to believe you. To tell the truth I now understand more than I think Quavis does.”
“I am sure you do. He almost killed his father out on the field of battle the other day. Did he tell you?”
“No. He has been very withdrawn about his family. His whole life has been shattered over the past few weeks. He is basically an orphan, but he is part of the Thunder Rapids family now and his father will find it very difficult to extract him from my protection and the protection of the Thunder Rapidscrew.”
“Then Quavis’ brother and sister will be his targets. He will save face if he allows any of his children to be sacrificed as a demon larva and he will still derive the power of having a minor demon to give him some power from the lower plains.”
“I didn’t like the man when I first met him. I even withheld the truth about who I was so Quavis could join us for a short trip. Now, when I see the man again I will kill him.” Pontarious vowed. “But enough of Quavis and his father, what happened with you after you refused to let Gambra train you?”
Conner threw up his hands;"The Mage Guild released me, letting everyone know I now knew how to control my magic and added in I refused further training from a member of the guild. Any real chance I had of getting trained seemed to vanish; yet I couldn’t tell no one why I had turned down Gambra’s offer for fear she would kill my family.
"My parents knew better. They knew I had complete control over my Autospells. They demanded to know what had happened. I, again, was too afraid. All I could think about was the boy Gambra had brought with her, his bones snapping one after another, his fingers bending at wrong angles until they snapped. I refused to tell my parents nothing.
“My mom made one last attempt then kicked me out making me a ‘non-child’, meaning I had to fend for myself without the aid of my family.”
Pontarious looked shocked, “I have never heard of someone being declared a non-child before. How could she have done such a thing?”
“She was angry.” Conner wiped away a new round of tears this time from sadness. "I think she thought I didn’t want to get trained ’er something. Gambra and the Guild sure made it sound like it. The others who might have wanted an apprentice dismissed me because I had turned down an offer. She knew how to destroy my chances for a future and did so very well.
“Anyway I was kicked out. My stepfather made a single try to get me to talk. When I still refused he took me to Junsac orphanage so at least I would have a place to stay. I never saw him or my mom again.”
Pontarious sighed and shook his head in sadness; “He sounds like a good man.”
“He was.” Conner replied with a slight grin. “He treated all of us like his own kids even though we wasn’t. His only real son was Kandric, but he never made none of us feel like he wasn’t dad.” Suddenly Conner remembered where he had seen the caring and concerned look in a man’s eyes before. The same look had been in his stepfather’s eyes the day he had taken Conner by the hand and escorted him to the orphanage.
Pontarious sensed Conner was drifting in thought so brought him back to the facts surrounding his learning the skills of a Mage and the history of the Dark Mages. “I think it would be very difficult for anyone in an orphanage to get any training.”
The question brought Conner out of his momentary stupor; “Almost impossible, well at least until Aster showed up and got things moving in a different direction. But really, I should let him tell you about how he pulled it off, cause, to be honest, I still don’t understand how he did it.” Conner managed another slight smile. “I kind of stumbled into training although I believe they came looking for me.”
“Looking for you?” Pontarious asked, “Who?”
“You will never get his name from me so do not ask.” Conner stated with a real grin this time, "He sent someone to the orphanage. The offer was workers were needed, not hard duties, and we would be returned every night. The pay was a single copper for every 6 days of work with the orphanage getting a copper as well. The orphanage director had to sign paperwork guaranteeing he would not take the copper we earned away from us.
“To a kid in the orphanage a copper is worth three weeks of work so next to all of us volunteered. Amazingly enough, everyone who volunteered did, in fact, get hired. The work was very easy too. Many of us had to do stuff like dig through rocks in a creek bed and separate all of the small round stones; you know the type perfect for sling use?”
Pontarious’ eyes shot up, “Now there is something I never thought about in all of my years as a merchant. Perfect sling stones could sell for a copper for a bag of twenty and I bet each of you could easily find 15 bags worth in a day, and you only ended up getting 1 copper every three days. Quite a deal!”
"Yea. He fed us well too, but you’re right he made a lot of money off of us. Still it was nice because we got out of the orphanage, he allowed us to play some in and around the water and we got better food and a copper for six days worth of work. This lasted for almost three months. Some of the kids got moved to other tasks for more copper, the orphanage got two and we got two for six days. But again the work was not hard. He had a few of us going out into the forest to find the straightest branches and bring them back so he could make arrows. Then we moved up to getting a class on what to look for so he could make good bows. Then a couple of us moved on to crafting the arrows and bows.
“Finally I, alone, was selected to go work at his farm. He took me though a magical gate and I was taken to where he did his training. He said nothing about what was going on. He set me to work learning how to separate gold out of the sand in a river not far from his house, I did find some gold nuggets, but I also got to see kids learning how to fight and how to cast spells and even how to read magic. Finally, one day, I asked about getting trained and he took me into his study and explained what was going on and who he was. He further told me that if I joined I would be living with a deep secret for the rest of my life. Once I agreed he brought me to his farm three days out of the week including nights. The orphanage got three copper and I got two. It was at his farm I leaned to be a real Mage, and who Gambra really was.”
Conner slipped into a very quiet voice and whispered, “It was also there I learned what a Wraith Sect Warrior was.”
Pontarious nearly choked on his own saliva; “There is no such thing. They were all wiped out hundreds of years ago!”
“You really believe every last one got hunted down?” Conner asked.
Pontarious drew in a deep breath. “The guilds say they were.”
“The guilds also say you have to be at least eight to be ready to be a true apprentice and will not allow anyone younger than human equivalent of eight to be called an apprentice. How many kids younger then eight have you seen with some control over their Autospells?”
“Very, very few, but there are some. Maybe one out of every 10000 beings who have magic potential can learn so early and their natural talent is close to the very top of their respective Fields. I think I have run across two.”
“So why do you believe what the guilds say?”
Pontarious shook his head, “I don’t really, but to think Wraith Sect Warriors exist. They create undead!”
“No, not all of them. If used proper we only use the power of death to enhance combat potential for a limited time. We don’t play with the life forces; we use them or we don’t. The Dark Mages are the ones who create the undead and give my sect a bad name.”
“Young one, are you seriously telling me I am talking to a Wraith?”
“Yea, for the first time in my life I am actually telling someone who has not already figured it out. I am a Wraith, a Teaching Echelon Wraith. I am now in a position to start up my own secret school and become one of the Order of the Wraith. There are currently seven others known who are Teaching Echelon in Wraith or higher who are opposed to the Dark Mage Wraiths. We know of exactly five who are in the Dark Mage council. Their leader is Gambra. Our leader is my current master. When you head down to Everone you will be very close to one of the Dark Mage’s strongholds and I am willing to bet he is part of the mess down there.”
Pontarious frowned deeply; “You said when you head down. Aren’t you coming?”
Conner looked up, “You mean you aren’t going to kill me or turn me over to the Baron of Junsac?”
Pontarious shook his head fiercely, “Son, I have never judged anyone on rumors and legends. I have seen you in combat and I have seen how you deal with problems. So far I have nothing but respect for your abilities and you have done nothing to make me worry. Not one of the many you killed the other day got up and walked away as a zombie either. Now granted, I will keep a closer eye on you for a time, but I suspect you will find your honest answers will have gained you a new set of friends.”
Pontarious patted Conner on the back, “Besides, I would be a true fool to head down where there very well might be other Wraith Sect Warriors without having at least one on my side.”
“I suspect my master will find out about this on his own and will round up extra support for me. There are not many of us, but we stick together closer than most families.”
“Which means we will have to expect a similar reaction from the Dark Mage Wraiths?”
Conner nodded, “This very well could be the final major battle between the two sides of the Wraith Sect Warrior Guild. The winner will have full control over the sect and the loser will be on the run and will either die out or take many more centuries to rebuild into any sort of power.”
“Then we must make sure Gambra loses.”
“Yes, but there is one problem, Gambra has never lost before.”
Pontarious snorted, “There you are wrong. Look at who won the battle for the caravan.”
Conner’s eyes glinted with a spark of renewed hope as the words sank in, “Yes she did!”
“And she will soon find herself on the losing end of another fight along with the father of Quavis and anyone who dares to support such an animal!” Pontarious’ voice seethed with rage. “If you think the potions I tossed around in the caravan fight were nasty wait and see what is in store for Quavis’ father! Come young one! There is a feast we are missing out on and we will need to have a full belly to annihilate the foes the gods are leading us toward!”
Bandurlok, prince of Black Dragons, entered his semi-secret chamber with an air of calmness, which had taken hours to achieve. This meeting would make or break his bid for uncontested power over the Black Dragons.
Bandurlok bowed deeply, “How may I serve the empire Highness.”
The elderly black dragon waved a paw allowing Bandurlok to stand fully, “You can start by telling me where our plans stand to assist the Green Dragons. I understand your Nephew is experiencing some troubles.”
“He is. The weather has dealt him some major setbacks. I have moved up part of my own armies to back him, but they have bogged down as well. I have replaced the leadership Highness.”
“So I have heard! I am pleased with your handling of this and so are our green scaled allies. How long before you are ready to move forward with the new leadership?”
“The leaders were magically transported to their armies today Highness. I gave them exactly one week to move forward to reinforce the lines around Everone. Monarch’s forces will soon be routed. Of this I have no question. Once this is done, we can let our mercenary armies invade Everone with the support of our forces until victory is all but assured then we will back out and let the greens and their armies sweep in. My nephew will pull back his armies and I will come in with our elite guards to crush the warlords of Morden’s mercenaries.”
“How about the plans to contact King Wyhrem?” The elderly king dragon asked.
"Once the greens are firmly in place as protectors of Everone territories, I will send an ambassador to them. We will offer them everything north of the river including their city back in exchange for a defense pact with him. We will back off to the mountains and have a buffer of a new Green Dragon Homeland between Wyhrem and us and we will look like the heroes to the people of Everone. We will then accuse the Warlords of Morden of attacking us, which they most certainly will after such a betrayal, and let King Wyhrem fight the battle for us. Once both sides are weakened, we will move in with our green allies and sweep away the warlords from their isles and double our territory.
“King Wyhrem will be too weak to argue after fighting the warlords, but we will give him a few of the minor isles back including the one once owned by the annoying Master Shaman Glaster. We will again look like the benevolent forces of good which will give us time to rebuild after the loses we are sure to take. All of our enemies will be eliminated so we can concentrate on fortifying the borders of our expanded empire. The best thing of all is the other Dragon Races will not be able to do or say anything because we will be, at least in appearances, the forces of good this time.”
“Proceed.” The elderly king ordered, “But make sure you have a back-up plan in case your nephew botches this up. Our empire rides on what happens over the next few weeks and so does my crown. It is down between the two of you. I want to see who wants it more.”
“I know Highness. But what matters most are our lands. The crown would be nice, but without a powerful homeland to rule over, it would not be a fun thing to have to put on.”
“Well spoken Bandurlok, make sure it is more than words which speak for you though!”
Bandurlok took the wave of dismissal and heard the crackling energies of a spell go off behind him. He knew instantly the King had teleported himself and his elite guards back to the secret castle which was the seat of Black Dragon power. With the meddlesome king satisfied at least for the moment he went back to his Red Dragonling visitors. “Everything is set. The moment Monarch’s forces are routed, move in and wipe them and my nephew’s forces out. Make sure some of Wyhrem’s knights see you fighting for them and their lands before you back out of the fighting. I will call on the greens to back the Warlords of Morden, which they will have to do. It is then I will move my own forces in and fight the greens, you will move your own forces up and assist. The greens will be all but wiped out, as will the warlords of Morden. We will then demand help to finish off the warlords and take the isles with the help of Wyhrem’s armies. You will get one third of the isles, I will get a third and we will let Wyhrem have the other third. He will get everything back north of the river including his city of Everone and the black Dragons will get the land up to the river.”
“You make out very well on thissss Prince Bandurlok.” The lead Red Dragonling spoke with a great amount of displeasure, “But at least we will have a homeland of our own once again!”
“Which is what you wanted 100 years ago when your own Prince first approached me saying he would back any power play I cared to make if it would lead to him having a homeland again.”
The Red Dragonling bowed, “Indeed. Now we move forward to regain what we ssssshould rightly have!”
“The pieces are all in place. All we have to do is make sure the puzzle fits together in a way to our liking.”
Mylan splashed some water in his face from the horse trough at the back of the barn. The training Glaster had ordered for all of the kids was ten times harder than anything he had ever been put through. He splashed some more water on his face and moved to sit down against a wall.
The swordsman teacher looked over, “boy, get your lazy butt off the ground. I said to take a quick breather not to go relax somewhere!”
Mylan moaned and stood back up, “Sorry Teacher.”
“Sorry will not cut it when you are in a fight!” The woman bellowed back at him. “In a real fight you don’t get a chance to grab a drink and wash off the sweat! Grab you mace and run the course again!”
Mylan picked up the mace off the weapon rack and felt his muscles in his arms spasm. He cringed but said nothing as he moved to the beginning of a makeshift combat course. In front of him, he could see his brother trying to dodge various swinging obstacles and strike out at targets wearing “enemy” colors.
Mylan cringed as he saw his brother swing his sword wildly at a “friendly” colored figure one of the other instructors dropped unexpectedly from the ceiling. As Lylan cut into the target with a blow that would almost certainly have killed a mundane, he was blindsided by a swinging large weighted bag. It knocked him completely off balance and he stumbled into a hanging log. He fell onto his blade cutting his arm slightly.
Glaster let out a call to halt from the end of the course, “Lylan! Congratulations! You not only killed one of your own people you never even looked to see what, if anything, was behind you! In this battle you are your own worst enemy! Look at yourself, your own blade even cut you!”
Lylan clutched at his arm as he stood; sweat pouring down from under armor which weighed more than most kids his age could carry. Tears spilled from his eyes as he staggered under the exhaustion of two hours of the hardest combat training he had ever seen let alone gone through.
Glaster twisted his wrist and extended his pinky and index finger. A bolt of light leapt across the room entering Lylan’s arm.
Lylan tentatively removed his hand and nodded in relief at seeing the wound was completely gone. The only sign of the injury was the blood on his left hand.
Glaster shook his head, “Get out of the armor and get cleaned up. Mylan you are next! This is your last run through today, so make it a good one!”
Mylan took in several deep breaths and charged toward the first target, unlike the first five times through, it moved on him this time. He had to reach way out to hit it. His wild maneuver left him wide open, a bag hooked to a rope dropped from the ceiling caught him dead center and flung him back almost to the starting line. He tried to cry, but he didn’t have any breath in him to make noise. As he recovered he looked up to see Glaster looking down on him with almost a sad expression. He tired to sit up but a hand from Glaster pushed him back to a lying down position.
“Stay there and tell me what you just learned my young student.”
“It hurts to get hit in the chest with a bag of sand?” Mylan answered after just a moment.
Glaster’s serious expression slowly faded into a huge grin and he started laughing, “Not exactly what I was looking for Mylan. Your answer, however, has a truthful ring to it! Maybe I need to ask my questions more carefully in the future!”
Glaster lifted Mylan up and put him on his feet, “Join the others. Get the armor off, oil it and your weapons and then you are free for the day.”
Mylan let out a sigh of relief. He then turned to look at Glaster, “Sir?”
Glaster looked down, smiled and knelt so he could be eye to eye with his student, “Yes?”
“What was the lesson I was supposed to learn?”
Glaster pulled off the bronze helmet covering Mylan’s head and ruffled the boy’s matted sweat drenched hair; “Combat is about keeping control. Unexpected things happen, and when they do striking out blindly is not going to win you many fights. When you extended you arm out to strike the target you not only opened yourself up to an easy attack, what type of damage would you have done even if you had hit?”
Mylan lowered his head, “Not much. I could not get any force behind it with my arm all the way out to my side.”
“A quick charge is often times a great idea.” Glaster stated as he helped the boy out of his bronze chain shirt, “On the other hand, if the enemy is ready for it, you have to be ready to switch tactics and put up a defense.”
“I really stink at this.”
Glaster took Mylan’s chin and raised it up so he could look into the boy’s eyes; “I did almost the exact same thing in combat. I extended my arm way out to hit a dodging target with my mace.”
“Really? What happened?”
“My mace crushed my attacker’s face. At the same time, his sword took off my arm.”
Mylan gasped, “I did not know you lost it in combat!”
“Oh yes. It was down to him and me. He was about to take the life of a young boy who had killed his last man, so I charged him thinking I could end it quickly. Much the same recklessness I see when you try to blast through my combat course. Just like the target moving on you, he moved on me. I extended and he swung. I was lucky he was not. If I had thought it over, even for a split second, I would have realized the desperation was not needed. He had released the boy to dodge my attack. I could have slipped past his dodge and taken up a defensive stance between him and the boy, but I didn’t. I lost my home isle because the injury left me too weak to rally any forces. One mistake is all it takes Mylan.”
Mylan managed a bow, “Thank you sir. I will remember this lesson.”
“Then I will have succeeded.” Glaster smiled, “Remember the same thing applies to other areas of life too Mylan. Sometimes taking too quick an action provides an opening to opponents. Think this over as you start selling and buying goods.”
Mylan watched Glaster make his way over to Prince Klandon as the boy readied himself for one last try at the course. The advice from Glaster was strange. He couldn’t quite see how a lesson in combat could be applied a lesson in being a merchant. On the other hand, receiving any advice on handling the caravan goods from the man was strange. He dipped his head in the horse trough, yanked his head up and shook out the water in his hair. He knew he would have to tell Yarnay and Sibler about this. Maybe together they could figure out how this would help them succeed in buying and selling of goods.
A round of applause broke his concentration. He turned to look back at the combat course and saw several of the teachers, and even Glaster patting Klandon on the back. Befuddled he looked over the obstacles. It took him a few moments before he realized The Prince had actually made it through! He smiled. Prince Klandon hadn’t been much of a friend since he came back from the islands, but Mylan still held out hope they could become friends once again. He was actually happy for the Prince.
Looking around, he could see he was probably the only kid happy for Klandon. The others looked annoyed and disappointed. It was pretty clear the others all wanted to see Klandon get hit with one of the heavy bags or worse yet get hurt. Mylan’s smile faded. Was he the only one who held out any hope of regaining friendship with his cousin? If so what did this mean for the rest of the trip? If he did what he thought was right he would probably end up in another fistfight with his brother or one of the others. If he abandoned hope of renewing a friendship with Klandon, no matter how much the Prince had changed, he would be going against everything his father had taught him about sticking next to friends through thick and thin. As Mylan undid the fasteners holding up the thick leather armored pants he wondered for about the hundredth time what happened to Klandon and why his best friend had changed so much. He desperately wanted the old Klandon back.
Monarch listened to the sounds of light sleet striking his tent with a smile. The Illorc loved the smell of rain washed air. The sounds of rain on his tent made it ever so easy to sleep. He yawned at the very thought of light popping sounds of frozen drops of water smacking the sides of his tent putting him to a peaceful sleep.
Unfortunately, he could not allow himself the luxury of a nap. His forces above the Silver Spine Mountains were close to breaking ranks and his strongest army was down in Everone stuck in an unusually cold spring trying to hold off the forces of the Black Dragons. His plan was so simple, so grand, and seemed so easy only a year ago.
All he had to do was keep King Wyhrem’s attention off the Silver Spine Plateau while he strangled it under an iron fist of a massive blockade. He was sure it would not take much effort, especially with the great Vondum supporting him, to gain full control over the major towns then send in his Illorcs to “break” the blockades. He would be seen as a hero and he would be able to take over uncontested rulership over the Plateau and be a king!
But, no. From the moment his plans went into effect everything started to go wrong. King Wyhrem paid attention, even though a huge army of Lizardmen had marched down and disappeared into the swamps south of Everone. The king sent supplies and companies of men up the Falcon Loft passes. Monarch’s forces were soon routed in the areas around Falcon’s Loft and were being pushed back even further. In desperation Monarch managed to have his agents capture and replace Wyhrem’s son so he could get information on why the King was so interested in the Plateau.
The boy gave him the information. A secret alliance between Wyhrem and the Hawklings of Falcon’s Loft existed. Undaunted, Monarch pushed forward with a plan to make it look like Wyhrem’s son had been abducted and tortured by some of the royalty in Falcon’s loft who had opposed the alliance. This would at least make some of the support dry up and Monarch figured he could be satisfied with the Plateau minus the lands under Falcon’s Loft’s control.
Again his plans failed. His supposed ally, Gambra, thought she would take things a step further and replace the Prince for some reason Monarch had yet to fully understand. Making matters worse, the real Prince somehow escaped, in of all places Junsac, home of the Watch. Just when Monarch thought things had gotten as bad as they could get, the boy’s twin who had replaced the Prince had vanished under the care of Wyhrem’s dear friend, Glaster.
Monarch pounded his fist on the table in frustration. At the same time the war in Everone intensified. His agents found the warriors were not simply raiders, but were, in fact, hired swords of the Black Dragons. He decided to probe further and found out the Black Dragons were working with the Greens on one hand and the Reds on the other. It didn’t make sense. The Greens and the Reds had betrayed each other in a bid to claim one of the outer planes as their own. This lead to the time of the Great Dragon Wars where both the Greens and the Reds lost their homelands blaming each other for their own failures.
Although Monarch still didn’t have the pieces he needed, he knew his long time enemy, Bandurlok, was behind the scenes in Everone so he ordered his most elite forces to fight them. Bandurlok could, of course, have avoided this by backing off on sending agents and forces up to the Plateau to disrupt Monarch’s plans. The Black Dragon Prince didn’t like the idea of his secret stronghold on the outskirts of the Deathland Mountains being threatened by a plateau kingdom. Nor did Bandurlok want the King of Black Dragons to find out about his steps to forge out his own little kingdom.
It had been this goal held by both Monarch and Bandurlok which had started the war between them. They both put plans in action to carve out a section to the dreaded Deathland Mountains. Unfortunately, they both thought the same area would be the easiest. Monarch understood where Bandurlok’s thinking had been on this. His own research had led him to the same conclusion. A kingdom centered within the shadows of the quad peaks of the Missing Finger Mountain was ideal for a small kingdom. It had a few small groups warring which constantly fought each other but could have been brought under the control of a strong leader. There were many minerals to mine out of the mountains in the area. A pass, which stayed open 6 months out of the year, made an easy trade route and offered the only access to the area so attack could only come from one direction. The same reason had obviously occurred to the rugged beings who had settled the area.
Bandurlok had secretly built a stronghold on one side of the valley while Monarch had carved out a natural cavern fortress on the other. When both groups tried to move in they ended up fighting each other and the towns in the valley united and crushed both sides. Monarch shook his head as he thought about the three-year war which left both him and Bandurlok a great deal poorer. The strange thing was, neither side found the other’s stronghold. Both still existed as far as Monarch could tell. Both still held small forces and both sides still fought a battle out of the site of the towns and villages. Over the years Monarch had spent 257,000 silver to keep the private war between him and Bandurlok financed; one thing Monarch did was keep very good records of where his money went.
Monarch realized if he managed to stop whatever Bandurlok was up to, there was a chance he might be able to not only get part of the plateau for a kingdom, but the hidden valley of the Missing Finger Mountain as his too! All he had to do was figure out what was going on and react in a way to expose Bandurlok’s treachery. The trick was to find out which side Bandurlok was backstabbing. Was it the Reds or the Greens?
Aster awoke with a start. His hand went down toward his axe automatically. He relaxed as he saw Shade entering the tent and become solid again. He hated waking up in strange surroundings, and any movement woke him, even something as small as his beloved Shade going outside to wander around.
Pocet put his arm over the boy, “What’s wrong Aster?”
Aster swallowed hard and pushed himself against Pocet tightly. “I’m OK.”
Pocet rolled over onto his side to look down into the boy’s eyes. He could see there was still a bit of fright clouding the beautiful boy’s face. He wrapped his arms around the boy and kissed him on the forehead. “Aster we have only slept together all night two times now, but both times you wake in a near panic with any sound. Even the way you are gripping your axe handle shows fear. Come on, talk to me.”
Aster let go of the axe and rubbed Pocet’s chest with his hands enjoying the skin to skin contact, “It’s just me being stupid, don’t worry about it.”
Pocet stroked the boy’s hair as Aster rested his head on his chest, “Don’t say bad things about yourself. We both know you are very intelligent. Whatever it is, maybe talking about it will help.”
Aster closed his eyes and enjoyed the feelings of Pocet’s hand caressing his body. “You keep rubbing me and I’ll tell you, OK?”
Pocet snorted out a quick chuckle, “I don’t see a down side!”
Aster couldn’t help but smile as he pressed his nude body even closer to Pocet’s. He rested his hand on his friend’s groin and started slowly working his fingers as he spoke, “I hate it whenever I travel. I wake up and it takes me a second to figure out where I am.”
“I think everyone goes though the same thing Aster.”
Aster buried his head into Pocet’s shoulder, “Maybe, but every time it happens I have to make sure I can remember where I am, how I got there and even who I am. I can’t help thinking it will all happen again.”
Pocet kissed Aster’s face and licked away a couple of tears, “What will happen again?”
Aster sighed, "Before I was taken to the orphanage I don’t remember much of anything. I remember sitting up in a back alley, not far from the town square. My head hurt real bad and when I touched it I came away with a hand red with blood.
"I staggered out into the street and was taken to a Healthman shop and fixed up. I remember going to sleep there then waking back up. I didn’t know where I was at exactly. I kind of remember being lifted up and taken there and the Healthman feeding me a broth as someone packed my head. Then I fell asleep. But when I woke I didn’t know anything other than my name and how old I was. I don’t know if I knew things before I went to sleep at the Healthman shop or not. All I remember about it was the pain in my head and the person who cradled me as they carried me to the Healthman shop.
"I kind of think I forgot some stuff though, because I don’t remember anything he said to me as he carried me or even if I was crying. Now when I wake up and am not someplace I know by heart like the Orphanage room, or my bed back at the forge I have to make sure I still remember things like who my friends are and where I am at.
“You are a Healthman Aster, you know blows to the head which do the type of damage your scar shows could have messed up your memories.”
“I know. Like I said it’s stupid. Put me face to face with a Harpy, Orc, Lizardman, or even an Ogre or two and I don’t even flinch. Wake me up and I’m a scared puppy.”
“You have nothing to be ashamed of Aster. Besides, I kind of like the way you grabbed onto my leg.”
Aster giggled, “Which one?”
“How about the small one in the middle?”
“Even better!” Pocet smiled as he felt Aster’s hand latch on lightly to his already rock hard manhood. “Although I don’t know if I like it being called small.”
Aster grinned and slid deep into the bedroll; “if it was any bigger I might not want to do this!”
Pocet couldn’t help but exhale is total bliss as he felt Aster’s mouth close over his little middle leg. “Your right my boy. Call it what you want if you can make me feel so good! But you know, it will be my turn as soon as I get the strength up to handle yours!”
Aster pulled off just long enough to answer, “Only if I don’t put you back to sleep!”
Pocet didn’t bother to argue. He put his head back and enjoyed the moment. Part of his mood, however, was not completely into the heat of passion Aster seemed to be enjoying. For one question kept coming up. What had really happened to Aster before he woke up and staggered out of the alley back in Junsac so many years ago?
Two figures entered the hall looking very much like twins. They wore Elvin Silver Steel chain mail armor and Elvin Silver Steel winged helms, had Elf Bows along with a quiver of arrows over their shoulders and Elvin Silver Steel long swords hung from their emerald adorned weapon belts. The only difference could be seen in how the swords were worn. One wore the Sword on the right while the other wore it on the left.
Guards on both sides of the doors leading to the central room gave a slight bow as the two figures approached but remained ever vigilant.
The tall slender being wearing the sword on the left hip returned the bow, “We have the information our lord requested and need audience!”
The sentry clapped his hands twice before resuming a stance more befitting of a statue than a guard. Only a few moments passed before a human boy, wearing only a green slave collar appeared. At the sight of pair of armored figures the lad preformed a perfect Elvin bow and stayed down awaiting instructions.
Neither figure seemed to give the child much notice, instead continued to speak to the statue like guards; “The lord will undoubtedly find our reports both troubling and highly intriguing. I truly hope he can see us before nightfall.”
The boy stood and quickly departed. Moments later the massive doors to the inner chamber swung open without a sound. The two guards watching the armored warriors moved quickly in unison to both avoid getting smashed by the doors and to take up a position to defend what was beyond.
The two figures entered the chamber. Six children cad in silver Slave collars came forward and bowed as if one and held out hands while remaining in a perfect Elvin bow. None made eye contact with the two figures.
Quickly the pair removed their weapons handing each child one item. Once their bows, Quivers and swords were in the hands of the children they advanced on to the next guarded door. Already the doors behind them had swung shut.
Neither being paid the slightest attention to the six children who remained down arms outstretched holding onto the offered weapons. Instead they stood in front of the four guards protecting the smaller set of doors and waited arms at their sides and feet together.
One of the guards clapped his hands once, signaling the children to stand and exit. None of the six made a sound as they moved out of sight. One of the figures smiled slightly knowing he would get his weapons back oiled and arrows restocked with the magical arrows made by the craftsmen somewhere deep within the stronghold. Coming to visit the palace had some advantages.
The slight smile vanished as the doors to the guestroom opened. He had expected to have a wait longer. Obviously his lord was far more interested in the information than he had guessed. On the plus side it meant he didn’t have to stand at attention for an hour or five waiting to present his findings.
The guards moved out of the way as if they were a second set of swinging doors. The pair of armored beings took a deep breath and entered the room. Both stepped across the threshold and bowed perfectly, just like the nude slave children had done for them.
“Stand and take a seat my good knights.” A voice stated loudly, “I trust your journey was an easy one?”
The pair stood and removed their helms showing them to be Alphar. The one wearing his sword on the left shook his head; “The expedition was not easy at all my Lord. The Plateau was challenging to say the least. We had to fight off three separate attacks and helped to drive off yet another on a caravan trying to bring in supplies to a besieged town. All of this happened before we even reached Slome. Our return was even more difficult. I believe your servant staff will not enjoy their tasks of cleaning up our weapons at all.”
“It will do them good.” the Alphar prince answered with a slight grin. “So what have you found about my daughter?”
“My Lord,” the Alphar warrior swallowed hard showing his nervousness, “she has resumed her life as a trained being. She is even starting to set up a temple in the Swamp Slums outside of Slome.”
The prince shrugged, “This is of no consequence to me. She forfeited her son’s position in my court when she first used her powers.”
The other Alphar grimaced before speaking, “My Lord, the situation is not so clear cut.”
“What concern should I place in the actions of my daughter? All I wanted is a report as to her actions.”
“My Lord, her actions have little to do with the overall situation.”
The prince frowned, “Why do I get the feeling you two would rather not say what is really on your minds? Enough of the veiled nuances, what is the problem?”
“Your grandsons are the problem my Lord.” The first Alphar warrior answered.
“They are meaningless to me!” The prince waved his hand in a wide gesture, “My human slave children have more of a place in this court than kids of my exiled daughter!”
The second Alphar gave a slight bow as if to lessen the impact of his words, “I am afraid the other Alphar courts will not see it as such if the word of their true heritage gets out.”
The prince sat down on his throne with a scowl and examined his two knights. As he watched their combined reactions he knew there was indeed something he was not aware of. “I fail to understand. They are Elf. Their actions could not harm me even if they became Dark Mages!”
“Very true my Lord, if their actions were improper your decision to exile your daughter and then to expel her first born from your court would cast you in a good light, but this does not at all seem to be the case.”
The prince scratched his eyebrow in total befuddlement, “By the gods, what are you two talking about? They are too young to have done anything other than cause problems!”
“My Lord,” The Left handed Alphar sighed, “You are very much mistaken.”
In a very un-prince-like manner and speech the prince leaned forward and simply asked, “Huh?”
“My Lord, your daughter used her magic once. It was in an attempt to save her human husband. She failed. She then kept her word to not use her magic or her status to help her or her children. No one within the Alphar courts would think less of her for trying to save a husband’s life so her only infraction is minor, very minor.”
“She has not kept her word though!”
The second Alphar spoke, “My Lord, she has no need to worry about her actions any more. Three of her sons are fully trained and two more are in training. She did all of this without using her status and even living far below what others would see as appropriate. Furthermore, two of your Grandsons are in very prominent organizations.”
Looking far more confused than worried the prince shrugged, "Her two oldest are Aster and the Halfelf Kandric. They are not even of child bearing ages. How could either be in a position to cause me trouble?
“Aster just advanced to Teaching Echelon and is a member of the Watch.” The left-handed Alphar replied nervously, “While Kandric has also advanced to Teaching Echelon and is a registered scout for the Wilderness Scouts of Black Rapids. Neither boy has officially tested, but there is no question both boys can easily pass the tests. Making matters far worse is the fact Conner, one of your daughters other children, she, declared a non-child is also at least Secondary Echelon. This means you have three grandsons, each very powerful, each could be considered Alphar, even the Halfelf, and each shows your daughter to be a more than proper Alphar mother.”
The guest room of the palace was totally silent for over a full minute before the price realized his mouth was hanging open in a mixture of astonishment and fear, “Um, how sure are you of these facts?”
"We are positive my Lord. We checked on your daughter and saw Kandric cast a Teaching Echelon Shaman spell, with the help of his mother he was able to kill a cloud demon. We then used the magical gate to take us to Junsac. We had to play catch-up to find Aster, but saw him in a battle against a massive army lead by one of the Dark Mages. Fighting beside him was Conner. They were almost defeated but a combination of a Watch team, a barge captain and his men and the gods themselves turned the battle into a resounding route for your grandsons.
"We also helped, but did so from a distance, taking out a couple of ambush teams. At the time, we doubted your grandsons would survive without our assistance. However, after everything we saw, I am certain they would have achieved victory without us.
“We did some more investigating. It turns out they are all headed to Everone. The gods are at work and seem to be helping your grandsons and maybe even your daughter.”
The prince had a million questions running through his mind, but only one had to be asked at the moment, “If either of you were voting Alphar council members and had what you know in front of you what would you recommend?”
“My Lord, I do not wish this taken the wrong way, but if I were to vote I would demand, not ask, for you to hand your crown over to your daughter. Your actions, especially of banishing Aster over the use of a single spell in an attempt to save a loved one would cast you in a very bad light within the Alphar Court.”
The prince bit back a curse; “I am open to recommendations.”
“We have talked this over and see only two options my Lord.” The left-handed Alphar replied quickly. “First you could try to assassinate your grandsons and cover your mistakes. This would save you the trouble of having to explain your actions but would unleash the wrath of both the Wilderness Scouts and the Watch. It would also have to be done carefully for if anyone else in the Court found out you could be sentenced to death.”
“I could not kill my own blood, you both know me better. What is the second option?”
"Go to the Alphar Court, explain you helped in small ways hoping to one day return your daughter and grandchildren to your court but didn’t foresee this situation down in Everone. Ask the Court to send in forces to help your Grandchildren. When they refuse say you are forced to act alone and send your own forces in. The Court will either let you do so, decree you cannot, or agree to send in a combined army. The only way you loose anything would be if they let you act alone. Even then, you still look good although you will undoubtedly loose good men and money in such an action.
The prince thought it over for a moment, “I guess I could simply act like I know nothing and hope no one finds out about my daughter’s successes, but I am rarely so lucky. I will call for a meeting of the combined Court. I will want you two to be my guards for the trip and to provide witness to the situation in Everone as you know it so stay and enjoy palace life for the next few days. You may also partake of any of the slaves except the ones wearing the green collars; they are mine and mine alone. The only other requirements I have are no deaths and no marks which cannot be removed by one of my Healthmen”
The two Alphar warriors stood and bowed. Neither moved nor spoke until the prince exited the guestroom. Finally the right-handed Alphar spoke. “He took this news much better than I expected Kolarian.”
“Indeed he did Salostar. I just hope his demeanor remains the same for the trip to the Alphar Court. Have you ever been there?”
“No, but I hear it is a throwback to the days before the Elvin-Dwarven wars where the people believe the Alphar are still the supreme race.” Salostar commented.
“Some of superiority thinking still exists, but the main focus is on destroying the remaining Drow. The days of Dwarf hatred are nothing compared to the fervor of completely eliminating the Drow. If we tell the Courts of the mysterious Drow Shaman who seems to be working against King Wyhrem they may well decide to throw in the full weight of the Alphar nation behind the defense of Everone.”
“It has been several centuries since the Alphar Courts have shown they still exist at all though!”
Kolarian nodded, “To strike at such a high Echelon Drow and have a chance to expose more Drow it is possible; even likely, the Alphar will come out of hiding. If this happens the Garm will also be forced to show themselves again.”
“The High Dwarves are even more secretive than we are! Do you really think they would risk exposure?”
“The peace between Dwarves and Elves was only achieved by a joint Alphar, Garm cooperation pact. If we come out on the side of Everone then the Garm, by the age old contract, will have to do the same. This could be the beginning of a new unified kingdom or the utter destruction of all the kingdoms within the boundaries of old Elborone.” Kolarian let his words hang as he quickly changed subjects, “I do not know about you, but I intend to let these matters sort themselves out. I figure it would be far more enjoyable to visit the slave quarters and see what is eye catching.”
Salostar chuckled, “The best looking piece I have seen so far was wearing a green collar!”
“Agreed.” Kolarian snorted, “One thing is for certain; our Liege has a good eye for a fine body!”
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